Only one quarterback in the Southeastern Conference threw more interceptions last year than South Carolina’s Jake Bentley.
That was Missouri’s Drew Lock, who threw 13 interceptions but offset that with an NCAA-best 44 touchdowns. Bentley threw 12 interceptions versus 18 touchdowns.
While the Gamecocks coaches prepare their junior quarterback for what they believe will be a big year with increased responsibility in a new style of offense that will include a faster pace, more deep shots and more use of run-pass options plays than at any time during Bentley’s career, the undercurrent of it all is they also are hoping his turnover numbers will go down.
“That’s something we talk about every day,” quarterbacks coach Dan Werner said. “That’s No. 1 on our list, protect the ball. I just want low interceptions, that’s what I want.”
Werner, who was hired in the offseason, has worked extensively with Bentley on footwork and body positioning, both of which he believes will result in increased accuracy.
“Technique and mechanically wise, I can fix some stuff,” Bentley said. “It’s been a great learning experience going back and watching all the interceptions from last year and just learning from them. Part of it is definitely trying to force too much, trying to get something going that wasn’t there.”
He doesn’t believe he will have to force as many throws in the new offense, he said.
“At the end of the day, (Werner) doesn’t want me focusing on interceptions. Coach McClendon doesn’t either,” Bentley said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive and throw the ball down the field. We have one of the best defensive minds in college football, so if we throw an interception, we throw an interception. We’re going to continue to be aggressive.”
South Carolina’s coaches have gone out of their way to point out that Bentley’s interceptions have roots in all aspects of the offense and can’t be blamed solely on the quarterback.
Head coach Will Muschamp: “When you have an interception, it could have been on the protection, it could have been on the route, it could have been a miscommunication. There’s a lot of things that you go through and you evaluate what we could have done better. Not all of those are on Jake.”
McClendon: “That’s something that gets laid at his feet, but a lot of times that’s stuff that’s beyond him, too.”
Werner: “When it comes to interceptions, of course everybody thinks it’s the quarterback. But when you go back in history, it’s going to be sometimes the receiver doesn’t do the right thing, sometimes the line doesn’t do the right thing, you get unlucky. There are a lot of different things that can happen.”
A lot of those things happened against Georgia, Florida and Clemson last year. In those games, Bentley had seven interceptions and two touchdown passes.
“I think you view it as a learning experience. You learn from it and grow from it,” Bentley said. “You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. Just find a way to win the game. I could care less if I throw four interceptions if we win the game, that’s all I care about, so we have to find a way to win those games.”
In 20 career games, Bentley has 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions to go along with 4,214 career passing yards.
“The good thing about Jake is he’s very coachable,” Muschamp said. “He’s got a ‘Coach me, coach,’ attitude. There is nobody more critical of himself than Jake Bentley, I can assure you of that.”